Lockdown interview: Drug and alcohol support at Thames Reach Greenwich

We speak with Ola Fabowale, Lead Manager at Thames Reach Greenwich, to discuss how residents are adapting to lockdown and being supported to take the next step towards recovery

Lockdown interview: Drug and alcohol support at Thames Reach Greenwich

Ola Fabowale is Lead Manager at Thames Reach Greenwich, a residential service based in the London Borough of Greenwich, which provides support for people with experience of homelessness who have been through the criminal justice system or who have drug and alcohol support needs.

Service users are housed for a period of up to 18 months with the aim of recovering from substance abuse. During their time in the project, which has 37 rooms across six properties, residents are helped to find employment and take further steps on the path towards independent living. We spoke with Ola about changes during lockdown, and how residents are staying engaged with services.  

What service does the Thames Reach Greenwich provide ordinarily?

We provide support for residents with drug and/or alcohol issues. We help them to get the best support possible with specialist services and encourage sessions with the Westminster Drug Project, the current service we’re working with. Some of the residents have issues with Universal Credit, so we also assist with computer literacy and make sure their information is up to date in the system. If benefits are not up to date it affects housing, so we’re there to make sure they’re up to date.

Is there quite a collaborative element to TR Greenwich then?

Definitely, as mentioned there’s the Westminster Drug Project, which has a base nearby in Woolwich. Generally we look at individual wants and needs, so for example some residents need to improve their literacy skills, so we encourage them to attend classes through Thames Reach’s Employment & Skills team; some prefer practical work, and there’s a centre they normally go to called Flower Skills which provides vocational training for jobs in areas such as security and construction. We also work with some people who have come through the criminal justice system, so we liaise with probation workers too.

How have the residents been affected by lockdown?

They are mostly keeping to themselves and staying inside. There are less people to socialise with outside the house as people living on the streets have been rehoused in hotels for the time being. The residents do tend to forget things, so we’re still here to make sure things are maintained and the two-metre distance is being respected. As for the psychological impact, we have therapy sessions available to residents so we actively encourage residents to attend those. The group sessions aren’t happening at the moment to allow for social distancing but hopefully they’ll be back soon.

Have you noticed any positive changes coming out of this difficult situation?

There have actually been a lot of positive things coming from this, mostly around engaging with clients. Clients have been more willing to engage with drug and alcohol services, and have been keeping up the two-metre distance. External services have had different opening times and have changed what they offer but there have been no negative changes here. We are still moving people on into new accommodation and we have moved new residents in too. We always deep-clean the rooms before a new person comes in, but we have increased this due to added risks with Covid.

One particularly good development is that we now have a volunteer coming every Tuesday evening to run a quiz night for the residents. The feedback has been great so far, residents look forward to it every week and they’ve said they find it relaxing. They’re getting involved and they’re happy.


World Hunger Day – Thank you!

We are marking World Hunger Day by highlighting the work of the Good Eating Company, who have generously donated over 2,500 freshly prepared meals since lockdown for those in need

World Hunger Day – Thank you!

As part of World Hunger Day, Thames Reach would like to thank those who have donated large numbers of meals to feed the homeless and vulnerable people using our services during the current pandemic.

The Good Eating Company, based in East London, are one such generous donor. They have donated over 2,500 meals to Thames Reach, which have been distributed to people using the following services: TST, Thames Reach Greenwich, Waterloo Project, Robertson Street hostel, Lambeth Night Shelter and Martha Jones House. As a result, hundreds of vulnerable people have been able to enjoy nutritious meals cooked by talented chefs; we are incredibly grateful for their generosity during this difficult time. We spoke with Chris Daynes, the company’s Director of Food & Development.

 Tell us about the Good Eating Company and how you got started

The Good Eating Company (GEC) was started in 1999 to provide a bespoke workplace dining solution for clients who wanted more than just a ’canteen’. Our focus was and still is to use the best seasonal ingredients and to work with local suppliers to create the definitive standard in work place dining. Seasonal, simple and fabulous! I started with the GEC in 2003 as a head chef and now I’m the Director of Food & Development.

How did you hear about Thames Reach and what made you think of Thames Reach?
I have heard about the work you do through various media outlets. I was also aware of Thames Reach because some of our team have been exploring various ways of us working together to help get people back on their feet. So when we had an opportunity to do something to help people going through difficulties during this crisis, Thames Reach were very much in our thoughts.

How many meals have you and your team given to those in need since lockdown?
We have sent out around 2,500 in total. We have such a talented team of chefs and managers that were more than happy to get involved with such a worthwhile cause.

Your brand is ‘Healthy and Happy’, what are your top tips for keeping healthy and happy in these challenging times?  

‘Healthy and Happy’ is an ethos we instil in our approach to what we cook. Providing food that is good to eat and good for you makes for a happy workforce. That is not to say we don’t do naughty as well, who doesn’t love a great burger! It’s about balance and giving people choice and having certain menu items described as ’Healthy and Happy’ gives our customers a more informed choice. My own tips for keeping healthy and happy during lockdown? Well, keep your meals fresh and simple. With most people having more time on their hands I hope preparing fresh, from-scratch food will become the norm and continue long after we start getting back to some kind of normal. I really hope this could be one of the lessons we can learn from this incredibly challenging situation.

The Good Eating Company made a short video on Instagram TV about the process of making and donating fresh meals to Thames Reach residents and service users. They also have a great Vimeo page full of expert advice for perfecting simple recipes at home.

Other meals for residents in the Covid hotel system have been supplied by Greater London Authority, and their chosen caterer, Red Radish. They have to date provided over 258,000 meals for those in need and volunteers since lockdown began. We also thank them for this essential work. 

How do our residential services support those with mental health needs in lockdown?

We spoke to Amy Dawe, Lead Manager of Thames Reach’s Bermondsey Project, supporting people with mental health needs. She explains how communication between staff and residents is key in understanding the pandemic

How do our residential services support those with mental health needs in lockdown?

“I’m the Lead Manager of the Bermondsey Project, which is three residential buildings in the area, each with ten self-contained or studio flats. Our project is mixed gender, but the majority of our residents are men. All residents have been referred to us from the mental health team and residents’ support needs fluctuate and the nature of mental health is that support needs are not always straightforward; someone can go from being stable to unstable fairly quickly. So within the project we deliver housing management and provide key work support – everyone is on a support plan tailored to their individual needs. We are always monitoring any safeguarding concerns and work closely with partner organisations; usually we have lots of different people coming in, like occupational therapists, social workers, carers, mental health professionals.

“Service users moving on to the next step is at the forefront of everyone’s plan throughout their time with us. This is generally two years but this is assessed on an individual basis. The client group we work with are often not suited to the private rental sector, so we need to make sure they’re supported in the right way.

“Changes during lockdown have been mostly around informing and advising residents about the situation, as some don’t follow the news and some don’t understand the situation. For instance we’ve had to make sure they’re aware that the shops they visit all the time are laid out differently and not always open the way they usually are. Communicating change is something we need to do regularly as well as reminders about personal hygiene. It is particularly important that we make sure those with additional health needs know to shield themselves. We’ve distributed leaflets and letters as well as speaking with them face-to-face while observing social distancing around the projects. Some residents need to be reminded about the new rules but we are around to make sure that no one gets left behind. The general feedback from residents is that the regular contact makes them feel cared for; we get in touch with them to make sure that they don’t have symptoms and have their essentials fully stocked. With fewer members of staff we’re running a skeleton staff at the moment who have really pulled together. Rob, who runs the MIMO course in the Employment and Skills team, has been redeployed here and he’s been amazing. He’s been decorating and deep-cleaning our rooms and communal areas, we’re so grateful for his work. As for staff, the team have felt valued by Thames Reach; our PPE deliveries have come very quickly, and when we did run low our stocks were replenished the next day with no issues. It’s been clear that our health and safety is really important.

“Some real positives have come from the current situation, in that we’ve seen the sheer dedication of our staff. We’ve been low in number but no one has complained and people have taken on new roles and responsibilities to fill the gaps and make sure the service we provide is still of the same high standard. I’m really proud of the team and how they’ve adapted, they’re a real credit to us and Thames Reach.”

– Amy Dawe, Lead Manager, Bermondsey Project

Keeping vulnerable women safe in lockdown

Anthony Donnelly, lead worker at our women-only residential project in Lambeth, talks about how residents and staff are adapting to lockdown

Keeping vulnerable women safe in lockdown

We caught up with Anthony Donnelly, who manages our women’s residential service in Lambeth. The project works with women with multiple and often complex issues, and as a residential service it plays a significant role in supporting women who may be vulnerable in a mixed-gender setting. Anthony tells us how staff and residents alike are adapting well during the lockdown. 

 It’s about seven weeks into lockdown now and as there are only five women living at our project, we can personalise the support we provide and can take into account everyone’s needs. For example, three people in the house are in a high-risk category, so we have separated the two bathrooms we have, one on the first floor and another downstairs, so that high-risk residents have sufficient space and shielding is able to take place. Cleaning efforts have increased during this time too; we have cleaners coming more regularly, ensuring hygienic conditions for everyone.

In lockdown it’s clear to see how entrenched rough sleeping has a big impact on self-esteem, as sometimes the residents have less concern for their own wellbeing. Years of street activity is often part of their psyche, even after our residents have been able to move away from the streets, and that level of social distancing has proven difficult for some of the women at our project. Where there are multiple issues, like underlying conditions or mental health issues for example, not being in contact with family members and friends is incredibly difficult. Overall though, our client group tend to have a much lighter social footprint than those in mainstream living as their social networks are often smaller than or not as supportive. Having our project as a base has been essential in keeping all our residents safe.

In terms of issues that disproportionately affect women, we have been hearing in the news that there has been an increase in domestic abuse cases since lockdown, but fortunately this has not something we have found among residents here. We have had to implement a ban on visitors, which is not ideal for wellbeing and morale but has to be done in these circumstances.

Residents being able to move on from the project isn’t really possible at the moment but we have recently taken in a new resident; this was all done via phone and with social distancing in mind. It’s quite an uncomfortable and potentially upsetting way to go about entering new accommodation for the first time, so I’m looking forward to being able to welcome people properly again. There are a couple of women ready for moving on to rented accommodation but unfortunately they are both in the high-risk category so will not be able to do so until the situation has changed.

The psychological impact of the pandemic isn’t too evident yet, but we have additional psychological support offered at Waterloo Project [another Thames Reach project]. Residents are starting to take up the offer and we are helping facilitate this, but there is some extra caution surrounding accessing external health services with residents, due to social distancing. I am keeping in contact with residents via phone to let them know about meals and services, so I can check in with them without physical proximity. We have been getting food parcels of freshly prepared meals supplied via local authorities, who have been really helpful and cooperative. Above all else, our project remains a supportive and safe base for vulnerable women and those with experience of homelessness. We are really pleased to be able to keep this service running throughout the pandemic.